Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The common core: Not a "promising opportunity" but a tsumani about to wreck American education

 Prof. Kenji Hakuta has sent out a year-end message to colleagues in language education.  The letter is posted on the Sunshire State TESOL Adovcacy E-forum and on the Oregon State Department of Education website.

I present below my response, which I posted on the Sunshine State TESOL Advocacy E-forum. Prof. Hakuta's letter is posted after my response.

I am not as cheerful as Kenji Hakuta is about the common core. I see not as a "promising opportunity" but as a tsunami about to wreck American education.
The standards and tests were created without significant teacher input. There are no plans to determine if the standards help students. The language arts standards look like they were written for English majors, and parents throughout the country are suffering with their children over the math standards.  The standards are enforced with what Susan Ohanian calls "nonstop testing," more than we ever seen had anywhere on planet Earth, again with no evidence that they will help our students.  They will, however, be of great benefit to the publishing and computer companies.
The huge cost of the CC$$ will increase, thanks to the requirement that tests be administered online.  There is already little left for anything else.
And we should not forget that there was never any need for the common core: Our schools are not "broken." The real issue is our very high rate of poverty. But instead of investing in protecting our students from poverty via food programs, health care and libraries, we are increasing testing at every level.  If the brave new standards and tests do not result in improvement, teachers will be blamed and there will be a call for even more testing.
I will be in Ft Lauderdale in a few weeks to speak at an opt-out (of the tests) conference: http://unitedoptout.com/2014/11/30/united-opt-out-stand-up-for-action-florida-schedule/  - The opt-out movement is the best and fasted way to put an end to this outrage.  I hope to see some of you there.

A Year-End Message from Kenji Hakuta...
Dear Friends:
As the year comes to a close, I cannot let 2015 dawn without noting the important anniversaries that passed this year.
          Sixty years ago (1954), Brown v. Board set the stage for racial desegregation, that “separate but equal” was not enough. 
         Fifty years ago (1964), President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion and national origin. 
         Forty years ago (1974), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Lau v. Nichols, a landmark decision declared that the same educational treatment given to English Language Learners as that given to native English speakers without taking into account their language circumstances violated the Civil Rights Act. 
         Thirty-five years ago (1989), the governors under leadership from President George H. Bush convened at a national education summit chiming in the era of “standards”, setting the stage for a wave of reforms that have culminated in the Common Core and related College- and Career-Ready Standards. 
Phew, that’s a lot of history!
From where I sit, the new year brings promising opportunities for making education better for all students, based on the history that has brought us here -- if we commit and build the will and the capacity of the system to learn from our experiences. 
English Language Learners have always been the “canary in the mine” in English-only environments – among the most vulnerable of students in the face of the fact that human learning and cognition are grounded heavily in language.  Language is the primary tool for communication as well as mental representation and cognitive processing.  When the chain of connections between the mind and language is disrupted, such as when a student does not understand the language of instruction, learning is disrupted. In our history, we have recognized this disruption, and tried various programs of bilingual and of English-as-a-Second-Language and sheltered language methodologies to help the students – none being a silver bullet, and all leading to the realization of the importance of commitment, capacity, and implementation.
Well, the most obvious face of the Common Core is the magnitude and depth to which successfully meeting the standards requires student active engagement using language – and this applies to *all* students.  The math standards for example require students not just to come to the correct answer, but to explain their reasoning through language.  While in the past English Language Learners struggled, now *all* students are struggling to put their language to sophisticated use, to explain their reasoning.  I am certain that the results of this academic year’s testing in Spring, 2015, will bear out the enormous challenge that language has now posed for *all* students, not just English Language Learners.
This fact is now dawning on thoughtful educators throughout the nation.  School districts as different as Seattle, Dallas, Hartford and Sanger have come to the realization that promoting rich student discourse and other academic uses of language in the disciplines is essential to attaining new content standards not just for English Language Learners, but for all students.  They have arrived at the systemic realization (many individuals have long know this, but they have been separated by the stovepipes of bureaucracy) that collaboration across the system is essential for student success.
The conditions necessitate a systemic response against separation of language and content.  The first signs of recognition can be found in the language or recent policies of states such as California and New York that recognizes that ESL (or ELD, ENL, whatever one wants to call it) needs to happen in a dedicated as well as an integrated manner within the content areas.  The second is the beginning signs of acceptance of the effectiveness of bilingual education programs and of the benefits of bilingualism for all students – this can be seen in the growth of two-way immersion programs in many school districts. 
So, even recognizing the many troubling conditions in which we humans find ourselves, there is promise that good work in the coming year will yield progress in the realization of the important role that language plays in how we learn and how we communicate – and that it applies to all of us.  We sit on the shoulders of Brown, King, Lau, and (whoa!) Bush, and all have contributed to our progress.
I feel enormously fortunate to have you among my many friends and collaborators at all levels of the profession – may 2015 be an important landmark year for you both personally and professionally!
Kenji Hakuta
Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education
Stanford University

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